This week we asked: Is it appropriate to eat kosher imitation bacon, crab, or any other such food? (The question assumes the food is 100% kosher from a halachic point of view. The question is if there’s anything wrong with eating fake bacon etc. from a hashkafic point of view.)
We asked four rabbis to answer this question in 100-300 words.
The primary concern with eating imitation bacon is maras ayin. Intriguingly, maras ayin conflicts with the broader principle of judging people favorably. Essentially, then, the rabbinic concern was implemented precisely because some people will make false assumptions. The real question, therefore, becomes: How concerned must one be about others looking upon them unfavorably?
While in the past cooking meat in non-dairy milk was more of an issue, today most contend that associated concerns (e.g., drinking soya milk after a eating a meaty meal) don’t apply. As the market is saturated with non-dairy milk, no false assumptions are likely to be made.
If imitation bacon is a readily-recognized kosher delicacy, I need not deny myself the pleasure on account of the possibility of someone wrongly accusing me.
However, there is another principle to consider: “Kedoshim tihyu – kadesh atzmach b’mutar lach.” Not everything acceptable is necessarily appropriate.
Why was kosher imitation bacon introduced to the market? Was it to satiate a desire because I can’t have the real thing? There is no lack of variety of kosher products; is it really so necessary to add alternatives to non-kosher delicacies? What does it say about my character when I can’t curb my appetitive powers and must seek out pleasure in these “optional extras”?
There’s an ancient chassidic adage: “What you must not do, don’t do; and what you’re allowed to do, you don’t need to do.” It might be halachically acceptable to eat kosher bacon, but, as my father, a”h, was wont to say, “Es past nisht” – (it’s not befitting).
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular lecturer,
rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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Some years ago, my wife and I were eating in a kosher vegetarian Chinese restaurant. A chassidic couple sat at the table next to ours. When the waiter asked for their orders, the chassidic man said in a loud voice, “I’d like the pork ribs.” His wife chimed in, “And I’d like the eel.”
Surely, everyone present knew the food served by the restaurant was 100 percent kosher. There was no question of mar’it ayin. Indeed, we ourselves were eating there, albeit sticking to the vegetarian chicken options.
There is no halachic problem with eating kosher food, even if the food looks and tastes like non-kosher food. The Gemara (Chullin 109b) cites Yalta, wife of Rav Nachman, who stated that for every item the All Merciful One prohibited to us, He permitted us a similar item.
Kosher consumers have grown accustomed to non-dairy milk and cheese served with meat as well as vegetarian “meat” served with dairy products. In the not too distant future, we’ll be dealing with artificially produced “meat” that may be deemed to be kosher and parve.
Having said this, it still struck me as odd to see a chassidic couple order pork and eel – and to order with an obvious sense of glee. On the other hand, why shouldn’t they have derived satisfaction from eating an otherwise forbidden product, as if to say along with Yalta, “We are not deprived of the various cuisines and tastes available to the non-kosher world.”
Although such foods are kosher, some will have a visceral negative reaction to being served “fake pork” or “fake crab.” I think each individual should make a personal decision on what is and is not comfortable to consume.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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Observing kashrut restrictions serves to separate observant Jews from the outside society and trains then in religious discipline. Both goals remain even with kosher bacon.
Nevertheless the excited anticipation of being permitted to eat food that had been prohibited is unseemly. It gives the impression that one has lost out through keeping the laws of kashrut of an important pleasure of life.
We already have the phenomenon of Orthodox Jews flocking to resorts for Passover where they are served every possible imitation chametz product.
No one is suffering because they are restricted to only kosher food. Over the years popular food products that previously didn’t have a hashgacha suddenly had an OU. For a short time, there was excitement but invariably it soon died down. Life returned to normal.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at YU’s
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
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To answer this question, first consider the following:
1) The Gemara (Chullin 109b) relates that whatever the Torah prohibited, it permitted something similar to it. One example is the brain of the shibutah fish, which tastes like pork.
2) One is forbidden to cook meat in almond milk because of maris ayin – it looks like one is transgressing the prohibition of cooking milk and meat together (Shulchan Aruch, Yorah De’ah 87-3).
3) Before we left Egypt, we were commanded to take Egyptian clothing from the Egyptians and put them on our children. This command is very strange since one of the merits in which we left Egypt was not wearing Egyptian clothing. Perhaps the message is as follows:
There could not have been anything intrinsically halachically wrong with the clothing – i.e., it wasn’t shaatnez or immodest – and hence we could wear it in the desert and even outfit our children in it. However, wearing that 100-percent glatt kosher clothing in Egypt would have been wrong as we would have been wearing it to mimic the Egyptians and assimilate into their culture. In the desert, though, there were no Egyptians to mimic and the clothing could be judged on its own merits.
Taking all this into consideration: As long as it is obvious that the imitation bacon, crab etc. is clearly imitation, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating it and getting a taste of a prohibited food. However, if the incentive to eat these foods is to mimic the non-Jewish world and make a cultural statement, perhaps eating them should be avoided.
Practically speaking, it would appear that one who craves these delicacies because of gastronomic considerations may eat them privately. However, at public affairs such as weddings, bar mitzvahs etc. – where the motivation to serve these foods may be to mimic non-Jewish catering techniques – I would be hesitant to permit it.
— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator